SpokenWord will start again on Monday 3rd September. The AWOL writers’ group is currently not running.

This info last updated 2nd August 2018. 

SpokenWord Paris is one pole of a nomadic tribe of people who love poetry, writing and song. A home for creatives and lost anglophones. We do an open mic night called SpokenWord every Monday at the Chat Noir and an allied writers’ workshop at Shakespeare & Company (every Sunday.) We do a literary journal called The Bastille and Tightrope Books published many of us in the book “Strangers in Paris.” Click on the blue stamp on the right to sign up to the mailing list.

Open mic/scène ouverte: Performance poetry. Lire vivant. Poésie sonore. Stand up. Monologue. Stories. Beat poetry. Spoken word. English. Français. Your own original texts. Old texts from Rimbaud to Dr Seuss, Beowulf to Gil Scott-Heron. Chacun a son mot à dire. Make the words come alive…………………….. Acoustic songs also welcome.

SpokenWord Sounds
A taste of Monday nights at the Chat Noir, by Victor. Listen or download here.

Every Monday except August. Come to the Chat Noir, 76 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud 75011. Métro Parmentier/Couronnes. Sign up 8pm to 9.30pm in the bar. Poetics start from 8.30pm underground. Check out the Practical info page for more info. Paris’ biggest and longest-running English open mic night, started in 2006. All languages welcome. Free entry. Exit one euro.

Check next week’s theme here

AWOL Writers’ Group
The writers’ group is currently not running.

Chat Noir sketch drawn by Allison Iwata.

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Shaking the Company

By Alberto Rigettini

I’m informed by the organizers that after 13 years and 650 sessions, attended by thousands of people, the writing group will come to an end because the new management at Shakespeare & Company decided not continue letting them use the room at the second floor. Apparently all attempts of having a discussion about it, a phone call, a face to face talk, failed. For me and for many others this is shocking news.

I haven’t been to the Other Writers get together in a while. Last time I went was May. That Sunday I finished working at the Louvre and stayed there longer talking with another tour guide, so I arrived later to the left bank bookshop. When I reached the second floor, the room was half empty and there was no workshop. There were no signs on the wall, nobody told me about the cancellation, I probably didn’t check the news from the mailing list. Well, I had to admit I wasn’t attending it very often lately. I noticed a missed call from Albert. He had probably found out, maybe they were somewhere else.

I was tired, I just sat down where I used to sit all these years, on the side of the window, the books’ spine pressing into my back. The fact that the room wasn’t used for the workshop created a strange effect I was about to observe. None of the typical characters I’d regularly see were there, not a tumbleweed, not a backpacker, not a wannabe artist drawing or scribbling on a notebook.

The constant stream of tourists naturally formed a line. They were walking in line like they do inside any attraction in Paris, in line to enter, in line up the staircase, in line crossing this room, reaching the window, turning their back, lifting their phone, taking a selfie, going back to the line, going downstairs in line again and out.

I looked through the windows at Notre Dame’s towers and found myself thinking: this was a privilege we once considered normal. But when? If it was just one week ago and it already seemed another life, just one life among the thousand lives Paris had had, this feeling that this life won’t exist anymore demolished me. Because this wasn’t an ancient monument, like a Cathedral, a Royal Palace, not even an Eiffel Tower. This, believe me, is a real place.

Click. Flash in my face. Damn. This place risks to become worse than the Louvre, even worse than the Catacombs, hey, hold on a second we are still alive! We are still alive! I wanted to scream. Worse than the Pere Lachaise, at least there, the writers are dead and that’s where George, the founder of Shakespeare & Co, is buried. There, not here. This, believe me, is still a real place.

Not long ago you would spend your day, you’d waste your time, you’d mark your corner, you’d talk and argue and you’d sleep, by night but even during the day, with a book on your belly, a cat on your shoulder. You’d bump into your future forever best friends and your forever best enemies. Not everything was always going fine of course. I’m one of those who can say I’ve been literally kicked out, shoe in the ass, by George, but if I said that right now, these literary groupies in front of me would go: “Reeeally??? That’s aaawesome!”

Yet, these who I see entering the room had a mad face. Like somebody on mushrooms without mushrooms. They would waddle through the floors with bulging eyes and the constant wow&awe. Somebody might say that when I arrived here 9 years ago I had the same expression. No. I arrived in this room, shyly, lonely, by myself, shy, lonely, like everybody had arrived, in the same way, from Great Britain, Australia, Lebanon, Sweden, Turkey, America. Shyly confessing I was a reader, I had my heroes in literature, surprisingly discovering that in this city there were other people like me, who claimed they were writers. Writers, that were writing.

And they would meet around these sofas. But these visitors were staring at me, with a mad gaze, smiling at me, as they smile at the Mona Lisa, looking at me, as part of the furnishings, just because I was sitting in the room. Their gaze was piercing me, but they meant no harm, their gaze was just going through me, as a human being I was invisible, I was, I realized, a ghost. I had feelings and a voice that didn’t belong to their world anymore.

Some of them, were acting as tour guides, explaining to their friends: “This is Shakespeare & Company” showing them a photo of Sylvia Beach. Not of Sylvia Beach Whitman, George’s daughter and the bookshop’s actual owner. Where was Sylvia by the way?

Sylvia, since the first time I saw her, with her blue eyes and smiling red lipstick, reminded me of an aerialist, always on the top of the wheeled ladders, flying from one shelf to another. The clients, down to earth, spent time talking to her, looking up, to a book and a butterfly in constant movement. Having spent so much time of her youth there, she knew the place by heart and handled the world literature in her hands. Thanks to her particularly physical relationship with books, her activity looked graceful but authoritative: Dostoevsky, Joyce, Nietzsche, were all put back in their places. Where was she by the way? Unaware or resigned? Pregnant of a second kid, with a boyfriend who looked so different from her father?

Sitting in that room, that evening I realized how, besides any judgement, the Other Writers’ Group, now called AWOL, as only for existing, had an important function in saving Shakespeare & Co and its history. It was the last barricade, erected by the resistants of what George called an anarchist utopia, arriving from all over the world, just for two hours a week, filling the second floor, occupying every inch of this room, sitting everywhere, even on the floor, using the space for something that looked really intense, damming for a second the persistent river of tourists. And the tourists looked happy anyway, pointing at these weirdos, gathering for real every Sunday evening, another peculiar live attraction of the place.

Why am I surprised by the fact that things can change at some point? One may say it’s the simple course of time and maybe it’s time to leave Paris before dying, instead of becoming, still alive, one of its âmes errantes (errant souls, spirits with no home). We’ll all become ghosts here, from the assistant to the real customer. Like a ghost I walked away. At some point downstairs, I started feeling pushed, as it often happens in the Louvre. They were pushing me forward, I was in the line, pushed straight towards the exit, no risk to buy a book, I got carried away and I was out.

I was giving a final look at the building from outside, ready to leave. And then something happened. A huge group of Asian tourists, I have no element to say where they were from, one of those groups I might have clashed with a few hours before at the Louvre, arrived and took over the little square.

The guide had a microphone and an umbrella or a flag and all of them had headsets. The guide started with saying something funny and everybody was laughing. Then he moved and placed himself with his back at the entrance. He probably explained something about this institution, but briefly. Then he pointed at an old American, sitting on the wooden bench reading a book. The guide flipped a random book from the outdoor shelves and mocking the American, sat next to him and with a stupid face, mimicked what a reader does. Everybody laughed and took pictures of the scene. The American smiled as well, out of kindness, but not able to hide the feeling of a little awkwardness. He didn’t know what was about to happen.

The guide said something else. And from that moment on, each one of them, they were around 40, one buy one, would pick up a book (not buying it, of course), sit next to the American, mocking him, rocking their heads emphatically, pretending to read with a silly face, posing for the pictures. It went on ad libitum.

Sitting on the steps, hunched, with my elbows on my knees, hands under my chin, indifferent as stone as that indifferent gargoyle who looks down to all visitors, I thought: if you don’t want the wannabe writers to be here anymore, these will be the ones you’ll get in exchange. I really hope the new management will change its mind.

Alberto Rigettini, Member and host of SpokenWord Paris, Pimp of the Poetry Brothel in Paris. Fan of Shakespeare & Company and of the AWOL writers group.


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Elan Mehler to Guest at SpokenWord Paris July 30th–Monday’s Theme: Saints and Sinners

2018.06.19_Elan_Mehler-4“Mehler’s touch is as nuanced as Bill Evans’s, and his phrasing draws on both jazz and classical music without directly importing licks from either.  The subdued certainties of his playing bring a crowded room to total silence.” –John Fordham, The Guardian
Elan Mehler was born in Boston, studied jazz and classical music at New York University, and resided in NYC playing music with various ensembles for ten years before moving to Paris in 2010.
Called “disorienting and fascinating” by MOJO magazine and a “…refreshingly slow answer to our trashy nanosecond pop culture” by Time Out London, Elan Mehler, has released 7 albums and toured major festivals and venues worldwide.  From 2010-2015 Elan lived in Paris where he started writing dirty, disturbing songs.  He now sings these songs worldwide with his band as TJ AND THE REVENGE to packed crowds in very, very small venues.   His newest record features Bill Frisell on guitar– “TJ and the Revenge” is due out in September on Little Lost Records.
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Nancy Stohlman to Guest at SpokenWord Paris July 23rd–Monday’s Theme: Carnival/Circus

Nancy headshot yellowNancy Stohlman is the author of many books, including The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014)The Monster Opera (2013) and Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010)which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and the co-founder of Flash Fiction Retreats. Her work has been published in over 100 journals and anthologies including the Norton anthology New Micro: Very Short Stories (2018) and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder.   Her latest book, Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, will be released in October, 2018. Find out more about her at www.nancystohlman.com

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Didier Cornevin to Guest at SpokenWord Paris July 16th–Monday’s Theme: French Poetry, Love and Journey

Didier CornevinI have always been passionate about literature and rock music. Before living near Paris, I was living in the south of France near Toulon by the sea. Why Toulon ? My father was in the Navy.  Provence, the cicadas, the pines what a beautiful region. When my parents left Toulon, along with the sun and the sea, we came to settle in a small village in the countryside near Versailles. Instead of giving up my passions they remained in the depths of my heart. I discovered French poetry Baudelaire, Never again will this poet leave me. I decided to learn to play the guitar and immortalize my favorite French poets–Verlaine, Rimbaud, Prévert– by putting their poems to  music .Today I continue my passion. I feel i have a mission vis-à-vis the people who are not of French nationality
and have not mastered the French language. I , myself, continue to be fascinated by French poets and so I try  to communicate to foreigners the love I have for these great men of poetry. Even if people do not understand the language, itself, I try to touch them– their sensitivity– and allow them to discover the beautiful sounds of the French language.

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Spoken word poetry is my passion – David Barnes

I’m a psychotherapist by day and a poet by night, and spoken word poetry is my passion. Both for the words and for the power of a performance that reaches out from the stage and touches your soul.

The world seemed drab and dismal, back in the day, so I set off wandering around Europe, high on Kerouac’s promise of meeting life on the road… My head too full of George Orwell, down and out in Paris and London, of Laurie Lee, who walked out one midsummer morning, of Christopher McCandless who wandered into the wild and never came back. Of Arthur Rimbaud in his season in Hell and Allen Ginsberg’s 1950s angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavnely connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…

I stumbled into Paris, expecting to get itchy feet in a few months. At least I knew a few words of this language. I slept in the Russian section at Shakespeare and Company and my best friend was a Moldovan folk musician who’d hitched around Europe with his cello on his back. And for the first time in my life I met people infected with the same madness – the conviction that nothing really mattered except the music of the words, the writing, books…

I started reading my free verse at open mic music nights between the songs. Soon a handful of us were doing it. And upstairs in the bookshop itself, in George Whitman’s twilight when an old British radio journalist, John Kirby Abrahams, ran a dying and neglected reading series.

I checked out The Live Poets Society at The Highlander (”The Live Poets Societ does not exist…”) but was too scared to ask to read, I didn’t think I was good enough. I went to French slam nights, but no one could understand my poems.

So, just because no other bugger was doing it, I started the only Paris open mic poetry night in English, and it’s still running more than a decade later. This is SpokenWord Paris. Where so much of the current Paris anglo-poetry scene has grown from.

Why? Because I wanted to share my words. And because I wanted to hear others’ words. Because, one of the first times I read, someone handed me a note saying ”This is what I came to Paris for.” (Unknown stranger, if you had not done this, would any of the rest have happened..?)

Why? Because of the poems I loved when I was growing up in England. Because at school we were poets at the age of 7. Because you have to follow the call when you hear it, when something calls you by your name, your secret name…

Because writing is lonely and I needed to be heard…

Because home is folk who share your craziness…

Because no other bugger was doing an open mic poetry night in English. And because I discovered that if you pour your passion into something, people respond…

So here is one of those early poems from back in the day, in Paris. It seems weirdly prophetic now.

ink is blood

ink is blood that courses through the arteries of the mind
containing all colours within its darkness
flowing in search of light and release
to the rhythmic pulse of the heart

words are shorthand for experience and imagination
a currency of vision and desire exchanged without loss

words are the seed crystals that drop into the jar that contains the soul
and expand into fractal mosaics

they are lights in the dark

syllables that touch off recollection of other voices
that re-ignite un-memories in the inaccessible corners of the heart

when I was born I drank a cup of black ink and now I bleed words
my mind is full of words and photographs of unreality
and I can see there is a wall of water coming
I know it by the pressure in my ears
by the sound of the shore
by the harmonic vibration of every water molecule in every cell of my body
in sympathetic echo
there is a wall of water coming and it will break in the mind
these tears that trace the outline of my face
are only the first brimming over of the flood
the false breaking before the wave comes.

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Our new call for submissions for the next Bastille magazine will be made tonight 2nd July 2018 at SpokenWord!

More info here soon.

Deadline midnight 31st July


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Ben Aleshire to Guest at SpokenWord Paris July 2nd–Monday’s Theme: Travel Stories

Benjamin Aleshire, poet for hireBenjamin Aleshire is based in New Orleans, and travels the world as a poet-for-hire, composing poems for strangers on a manual typewriter in the street. His work has appeared recently in Iowa Review, Boston Review, El Mundo (Spain), NEON (Germany), Havana Times (Cuba) and on SinoVision TV (China). His artist-book of visual poems, Currency, is now in its second edition, and he recently released an audio-chapbook of poems with sound collage. Ben serves as assistant poetry editor to the Green Mountains Review, and has received awards from the Vermont Arts Council, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and the University of New Orleans.

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Kathleen Spivack to Guest at SpokenWord Paris June 25th–Monday’s Theme: The Other


Kathleen Spivack is an award winning poet, novelist and essayist. (She is also a friend to many a writer, imparting both guidance and undying support–My words)  Her newest book is the novel Unspeakable Things (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016). The book centers on European refugees in New York City struggling to survive during the last year of the second World War. Her earlier book, With Robert Lowell and His Circle (2012), a memoir, was published by the University Press of New England. A History of Yearning (2010) won the Sow’s Ear International Poetry Chapbook Prize and also won first prize in the poetry book category at the London Book Festival. Recent poems have won first prizes including the Allen Ginsberg Memorial Poetry Award and the New England Poetry Club’s Erika Mumford Prize. She has also won several Solas International Best Essay awards. Residencies include the Radcliffe Institute, Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony and the American Academy in Rome. Fellowships include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fulbright Commission. She teaches in Boston and Paris.

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Bruce Edward Sherfield to Guest at SpokenWord Paris June 18th–Monday’s Theme: Essence / Scent


Bruce  has always considered himself an unidentified flying artist, dividing his career between dance, acting, songwriting, rap, composing, collage, voiceover, and his biggest passion: the written word. ” I have a BFA(Biggest Fluke of ALL?) from the University of Florida in collage, painting and performance”.  He’s done the music thing with bands like Spontane, Versus and Sophia Lorenians, at many festivals all over the world.3-time co-editor/designer of the Bastille Lit Magazine of SpokenWord Paris, and co-host of a weekly writing workshop at Shakespeare & Co. since 2011. Now known as AWOL.In 2015, he taught poetry/slam/hip-hop to young writers for the US Embassies in the Congo, Senegal and Niger. In 2016, he was invited to Conques to give an art-therapy workshop against the trauma of torture. In 2017, He starred, wrote and directed his first sci-fi cartoon, Kabuki Zamboni.  He collects typewriters and donates them to kids and writers.Tonight, he will be presenting the second (hand-cut, hand stamped, handmade in 5 hours) book in his Wifty-Fun series, called Another Son’s Treasure, ”100 memories picked from the trash of this, my mother’s passing”.

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Hassan Melehy to Guest at SpokenWord Paris June 11th–Monday’s Theme: Migration

hassan-headshot-2 (1)  Originally from New England, Hassan Melehy lived all over the United States before settling in North Carolina in 2004. His poems have appeared in The Hat, nthposition, Borderlands, and Redheaded Stepchild, among other journals. His first collection, A Modest Apocalypse, was published by Eyewear in 2017. His verse is eclectic but owes more to experimental practices, from the sixteenth century to the present, than anything. The son of immigrants, one from western Europe and the other from the Middle East, he sometimes writes about his experiences as a second-generation American. In addition to his creative writing he has written three books of literary criticism, most recently Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory (Bloomsbury, 2016). He lives in Chapel Hill, NC with his wife, Dorothea Heitsch, and teaches French and Comparative Literature at UNC.

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